Graduation season is in our midst, and as such it feels timely to highlight some of the country’s best-known college commencement traditions. From symbolic book signings and ring bearing to more personal examples involving mascots and school superstitions, these traditions can be seen not only across the country but right in our own backyard.
At Saint Mary’s College, undergraduate commencement ceremonies are celebrated by a tradition of family gatherings where relatives of graduates host receptions on campus so as to give students a kind of final memory of the school with all of their classmates around them.
St. Mary’s celebrations begin early. At the receptions “groundskeepers will —barring rain— mark off grids on the chapel lawn, and other green campus spaces. Vendors and food suppliers will show early the next day to erect canopies for the big day for the students and their families,” says Mike McAlpin, Director of Media Relations at St. Mary’s. “Some tents will feature home made treats, while others are full blown affairs, offering catered meals, full bars and feature generators for live music…It's not unusual to hear a classical quartet on one plot, a mariachi group at another celebration and a funk/blues band at another space. In the past, graduating seniors and their families have hired clowns, cupcake trucks and laid down an outdoor dance floor.”
For St. Mary’s students and administrators alike, this long-standing tradition of family involvement is a clear example of the school’s philosophy. “It is the desire of the College that these graduation receptions reflect the College’s mission and familial nature. The receptions should be social gatherings that are both intimate and manageable,” according to the St. Mary’s website.
Other colleges across the country have similarly touching graduation traditions, even if they only hold significance for students at and alumni of the college in question.
At Connecticut College graduates are given Eastern White Pine saplings to carry at Commencement. “The sapling represents the tree on the College seal and each student's continuing connection to the College,” according to the school’s website.
At every Williams College Commencement a watch is dropped from the 80-foot spire of the college chapel. “If the watch breaks, tradition now holds that the class will be lucky.” I would hate to see the watch drop fail – in that case, are they allowed a redo?
Many schools have a convocation/commencement type of tradition, often involving an item such as a flower or gown that symbolizes entry and exit as one unified class. At Georgetown University, freshmen are given at convocation the same robes that they will wear at their commencement four years later and welcomed into the Georgetown community in a ceremony at which they are instructed to wear said gowns.
At Scripps College, students enter the main doors of the on-campus library only twice – on convocation and graduation. On these days Scripps students sign their names in a book that is then kept on campus grounds. Similar book-signing traditions are help at Oglethorpe University and Goshen College.
Bringing commencement ceremonies into the 21st century, some schools – namely East Carolina University, Hampton University and the University of Pennsylvania – began traditions last year of encouraging their students to liveblog their graduation ceremonies via Twitter.
Overall, commencement traditions of all varieties seem to be a way to ensure us of two things: first, that our struggles and exhaustion were well worth the outcome, and second that we will never leave our alma mater behind.